Newcastle University spin-out sets up rainforest joint venture

07 Nov 2006 | News

Joint venture

Drug discovery specialist e-Therapeutics, of Newcastle, UK, has joined forces with a Brazilian company Grupo TCI, to seek new medicines from the South American rain forests, using e-Therapeutics’ drug profiling system.

Under the partnership the two will establish a joint research facility close to the Amazonian and Atlantic rain forests, to start testing substances from the millions of plants in the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.

In a separate deal, e-Therapeutics is joining forces with CURA, a pharmaceutical consortium backed by the Brazilian government, which is establishing a cluster of drug discovery, development and marketing companies in North East Brazil. This will give e-Therapeutics a base from which to access Brazilian pharmaceutical companies.

e-Therapeutics was spun out of Newcastle University in 2003 by Malcolm Young, who developed systems biology techniques that can accurately predict the biological effect of any substance on any human tissue and on pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses.

His research attracted more than £10 million in research funding from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and other organisations to turn his ideas into practice.

The technology was validated by correctly predicting the effects of known drugs, including 103 known antibiotics. But it has also been used to discover new antibiotics, and these are now entering development.

While e-Therapeutics is not alone in prospective for potential drug compounds in the rain forest, it has the advantage that its system typically takes only two weeks to assess a substance.

Young, who is now Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Newcastle University, said, “This is a fantastic opportunity to investigate Brazil's colossal biodiversity. There is enormous potential for drug discovery in the rain forests, where there are millions of plant species, many of which produce bioactive chemicals.”

Roberto Marinho Filho, President of Grupo TCI, said, “This new partnership will enable us to access our rich resource of natural compounds and determine their medical use. This will open the current bottlenecks in developing new drugs.”

e-Therapeutics linked up with the Brazilian companies with the assistance of the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), an organisation formed by the 200 pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and petrochemical companies based in the North East of England.

NEPIC says that it intends to provide industrial connections and support for e-Therapeutics as it grows. Funding for e-Therapeutics has included a £90,000 investment from NStar, an independent early stage technology venturing company, via its Proof of Concept Fund POC in 2004.

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